TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas physician trying to unseat three-term U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in the Republican primary picked up the endorsement of a national tea party group Thursday, and a northeast Kansas prosecutor confirmed that he's running as a Democrat.
The Tea Party Express endorsement of Dr. Milton Wolf came as the GOP challenger worked to shift the campaign's focus away from his past postings of graphic X-ray images on Facebook. Roberts' re-election campaign this week launched statewide radio and cable television ads about the postings.
During a Topeka rally, Wolf, a Leawood radiologist, continued to attack the federal health care overhaul and described Roberts as a Washington insider. Wolf also said he has strong anti-abortion and gun-rights views, both important to many GOP primary voters.
Wolf criticized President Barack Obama over a comment the Democrat made as a candidate in 2008 — that some bitter small-town residents cling to guns and religion.
"As for me, I love the Lord, our God," Wolf said. "My firearm of choice is the Ruger SR-556, and I have hatred towards no man, only towards bad government," he declared to cheers and applause from the Topeka crowd.
About 40 supporters attended the Topeka event at a downtown restaurant. Wolf also had rally with the tea party group's chairwoman in Wichita and Overland Park.
Ahead the Topeka rally, the top local prosecutor, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, confirmed he will run for Roberts' seat. Taylor is the only Democrat to have expressed an interest publicly, and he scheduled a news conference Friday at the Kansas secretary of state's office to launch his campaign.
Taylor was elected district attorney in 2008 and re-elected in 2012. No Democrat has won a U.S. Senate seat in GOP-leaning Kansas since 1932, though many Democrats believe their candidate has a significantly better chance of winning if Wolf ousts Roberts in the primary.
But Leroy Towns, the senator's executive campaign manager, didn't see the Tea Party Express endorsement as significant in the GOP race, arguing that it is an outside group with "no interest in helping Kansas." The Sacramento, Calif.-based group describes itself as the largest tea party political action committee in the nation, and it's involved in Senate and congressional races around the nation.
State Rep. Scott Schwab, a conservative Olathe Republican and Roberts supporter, said, "The people of Kansas will endorse Pat Roberts.
"You've got a competition between not policy but personalities and character, and Pat's just rising to the top," Schwab said.
Wolf's campaign believed it was making inroads earlier this month over questions about whether Roberts truly can claim Kansas as home. Wolf broadcast a week of statewide radio ads attacking Roberts over owning a residence in Alexandria, Va., and renting space in the home of supporters living at the Dodge City address where he's registered to vote. The senator owns a Dodge City duplex unit, but it has a tenant.
Roberts' re-election campaign began the year with $2.24 million in cash on hand, compared with about $179,000 for Wolf, and Roberts has endorsements from key anti-abortion and gun-rights groups.
Wolf told his supporters in Topeka that he's "100 percent pro-life." He also said he's a lifetime National Rifle Association member who holds a state concealed-carry permit. His favored firearm is an auto-loading rifle.
But Wolf still found himself answering questions about postings several years ago of X-ray photos of fatal gunshot wounds and medical injuries on a personal Facebook page along with commentary that included dark humor. Wolf has said he removed the images shortly after they appeared, and he's apologized. The Topeka Capital-Journal first reported the postings over the weekend.
Roberts' re-election campaign Thursday launched a 60-second statewide radio ad, "Creepy," about the Facebook postings. The senator's first television ad, a 30-second spot, "Alarming," also focused on the issue and began on cable stations statewide Wednesday.
Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer dismissed this issue as "minor" and an example of "what is wrong with politics today."
"The parties, both parties, don't like to lose control," Kremer told the Topeka rally. "They can't control us."
Wolf campaign: http://www.miltonwolf.com/
Roberts re-election campaign: http://www.robertsforsenate.com/
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna .